Early in November, Bandai Namco Australia sent Pete and I an Xbox Series X key to the Closed Network Test for upcoming fantasy action RPG, Elden Ring. Pete is a massive souls games fan, and I am willing to give them a try but usually they’re too hard for me. Dark Souls 1, Lords of the Fallen and the recent Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order have been my limits in the genre. I managed to get through Jedi Fallen Order after dropping the difficulty level (and, it’s Star Wars!). The others I played for a few hours each, but eventually I get stuck on one bloody tough boss, and it ends my patience. So, this first impressions preview will give you both sides of the souls coin from our perspectives.
Developed by From Software, Elden Ring is set for release on February 25, 2022 on PC, PlayStation and Xbox and is high on the most-anticipated games lists for 2022. The initial thing that attracted me to Elden Ring was the fact that the game is set in the Lands Between, a new fantasy world created by Hidetaka Miyazaki, creator of the Dark Souls video game series, and George R. R. Martin, author of The New York Times best-selling fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. If you’re a souls game fan and love a damn good story, you’re in for a real treat here.
The closed network test was held over a single weekend, with five 3-hour blocks where the servers were available. Now for Pete and I who are both Dads of young kids, and given the time zone differences, there were only two sessions we were likely to be able to play. As it happens, we were both only able to get into the Friday evening session, but it was enough for both of us to come away very keen for the full game. As mentioned, I’m not too fond of souls games and Pete bloody loves them, so here are Pete’s thoughts.
I have a top 10 list of things in this life I love, and amongst family and fried chicken, souls games make that list – I’m not kidding. This weekend those games climbed into my top 3 with the opportunity to play Elden Ring.
Being a test server, you’re told early on to disregard any developmental errors you may encounter. With that in mind, my only real question at this point was, “do we have another souls game on our hands here?” I am happy to report quite simply, yes, we do.
Those familiar effects, cues, and general aesthetic are there. The gorgeously dark scripting of both story and world are there. The disturbing character design is there. “You Died” is there, more often than I care to tell you.
Finally, and this is only a preview and I know I haven’t given you much but I’m hoping that simply telling you we have another Souls game is enough for now, but the open world is absolutely stunning in that classic From Software way. I don’t know how they do it time and again, but this studio manages to present a utopic vision with a constant edge of tension yet again here. A place that is beautiful, mysterious, and dangerous all at the same time.
We have another Souls game on our hands, and I can hardly wait for the full game to land.
I myself hadn’t done much reading about Elden Ring prior to this point as I like to go in fresh without any pre-conceived ideas so I can form my own uninfluenced opinion. What I did know though was that I was in for a hard time. That was indeed true, but that’s the core of a souls game. What I didn’t expect was the sheer size of the open world we can explore and I liked the presence of RPG elements carrying different weapons and armour, and stealth mechanics.
Before getting into the action though, you need to choose your character class out of five options available – Warrior, Enchanted Knight, Prophet, Champion and Bloody Wolf. Pete chose Champion while I went with Warrior. Having now played for a couple of hours, I felt I was limited as a warrior because I had to open each fight, whereas I would have liked some form of range damage to draw a lone enemy from their position without alerting others, and to do some damage before they get into melee range. Pete agreed.
The first time we stepped into Limgrave, we were taken aback by the enormity of the landscape, and the huge yellow glowing tree reaching into the sky in the distance. We could see some dense forest, ruined stone structures of long-past buildings, and a few roaming enemies. I died a lot to the first big roaming horseman in Limgrave, and in the end, rather than get frustrated, I just gave him a wide berth and explored beyond him. That’s the beauty of having a large open expanse to explore (and run away from baddies).
I did manage to kill some smaller zombies and lone soldiers. As you kill enemies, you collect runes which are used as currency and to level up your character. Spread through the areas I visited were sites of grace (like bonfires in other games) allowing you to save the game and recharge health. If you do recharge your health, all enemies you just vanquished in that area will respawn. One other feature of these sites of grace is they show you a shining light that points in the direction of the next site of grace, giving you guidance as to the direction you should be heading. I found this helpful as, after spending some time sneaking around, dispatching lone enemies and stumbling into groups of them. I’d sometimes lose track of where I should be going, so having these beacons was great.
The open-world environment of Elden Ring allowed me to assess battle encounters from afar, plotting how best to tackle them. There is one big, ruined stone camp full of enemies and I circled it to look for entry points, noting soldier patrol routes and spotting some chests to loot. There were a few soldiers I could pick and draw out on their own, and plenty of hiding spots I could wait in stealth to ambush a lone patrolling unit. After multiple deaths though, I wasn’t getting anywhere so moved further along the path. I came across a group of three slow-moving skeletons, but they still hit bloody hard. If you manage to take out groups of monsters like this though, you’ll get some bonus souls.
Given how often I was dying and the end of the three hours was approaching, I thought I’d just explore more of the map so I could see new places and plan my next adventure later in the weekend. It’s here where I came across a hooded figure after resting at a site of grace. Her name was Melina and she had one eye closed over with scars. She explained about finger maidens who serve Two Fingers, offering guidance and aid to the Tarnished. She said I was maidenless, but she could play the role of maiden, turning rune fragments into strength and aid in my search for the Elden Ring. I needed to take her with me to the foot of the Erdtree. Whenever I rested at a site of grace, I could trade runes with her to level up.
She also gave me a ring that could summon a spectral steed called Torrent which then opened up mounted combat, and much faster traversing of terrain. Torrent can die though, and you can resummon it but at the cost of one Flask of Crimson Tears. Mounted combat changed how I faced the next few battles in open fields. I was better able to dodge and get away from big attacks and come back around to do a side attack while I looped around them. I still died a heap, but it felt like a different form of combat for my warrior, enough to get my excited to play next session.
We had hoped to join together to play co-op, which is possible in Elden Ring, however as Dad life happens, neither Pete or I could get on for another session that weekend. We both really enjoyed what we played thus far and we’re looking forward to the full release early next year. Veteran souls fans have a lot to be excited for with this game.
Thanks to Bandai Namco Australia for access to this closed network test. We tested the game on the Xbox Series X which ran amazingly, and Elden Ring is set for release on February 25, 2022 on PC, PlayStation and Xbox.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis